When Home Alone first hit theaters, I was in high school. It looked funny, so my friend Mike and I went to the movie theatre after classes one day to go check it out. I remember thinking it was cute, chuckling at a few points, and then laughing uproariously through the final ten minutes. I inherited a love of slapstick comedy from my dad, and I laughed so loud I think it echoed in the theatre.
In fact, I remember after the movie, running into two classmates who were there on a date. The girl (Susan, I think, along with Dave), commented about the guy who was laughing so loud it was funny in and of itself. She asked if we’d heard it. I sheepishly admitted that it was me, and we had another laugh about it.
The movie was a huge hit, which meant it became hip to hate it within a couple of years. Even the too-much-respected Kevin Smith took a shot at it in Dogma, claiming that the inspiration for the film was from the Devil.
People don’t like to admit that it was popular to start ragging on the movie, but I was there. I remember. The 1990s was a time full of grungy sardonicism in popular culture, and it was infectious. The unfortunate sequels naturally only bolstered those who wished to diminish it.
Home Alone‘s hailed now as a modern classic on its 25th Anniversary; it was given limited re-release, and been referenced in yet another awful-looking Seth Rogen showcase of “humor” (The Night Before).
The current chatter reminded me I hadn’t seen the movie in a long time, and being a sucker for nostalgia while being a Dad, I rented the movie so my kids could watch it. I wanted to see if any of the humor rang true with them, the modern child audience.
The first thing that jumped out at me during the opening credits was the music. Anyone who’s reading my Star Wars Rebels reviews on this site knows I latch onto movie music pretty heavily.
It’s John Williams being fun, and he makes the most of it. His score isn’t what you’ve come to expect from him, either. There’s nothing that demands your attention or makes you want to run out and buy the soundtrack. Williams seems to have restrained himself.
Something else I like to do is listen for the familiar cues and themes in any artists’ work. What I caught this time was that Williams’ score carries heavy hints of Harry Potter, another signature film on which he collaborated with Chris Columbus.
It gives me half a mind to go back and review his catalogue to see how his musical signature varies with each filmmaker, and listen not for repeated motifs, but how his music might color our perceptions of the director’s work. Either way, the music fits the airy situation for this friendly family story.
We’re often told how audience sensibilities change and movies we regarded as classics in the past don’t play quite the same way in today’s world. I enjoy putting those theories to the test.
Watching the movie as I am now, it’s amazing to see how much has changed while staying the same. I won’t belabor the point about all the technology that’s making someone like me feel old when watching movies from their youth (you have plenty of places to go do that). Rather, I’d say that the important theme here is that kids should be allowed to be kids.
It’s pretty refreshing. I think in the Social Media Era we’ve lost sight of the fact that childhood is a precious time to be protected and respected. The faster we try to get kids to grow up, the more we mess them up. They love slapstick, they love adventure, and they love knowing when they’re loved.
I can’t help but shudder at the thought of a Home Alone remake where Kevin is on Instagram and keeping up with that family of trolls from reality television. I guess, then, that this movie really is a wistful snapshot of not-so-long-ago, when innocence was sacrosanct and the wisdom of a child was found in their naïveté.
A History of Violence
Children understand the difference between movie violence and real violence. That may shock and amaze some people, but I know this to be true. It’s the reason that The 3 Stooges endured—kids love slapstick.
The more bizarre and improbable violence, the more kids will laugh. Heck, I laugh too.
The end sequence of the movie, with Kevin outsmarting the burglars, got amazingly sustained belly laughs from my kids. They understand that in real life, fire burns and falling down steps is terribly dangerous.
But a living cartoon is high comedy. The climactic defense of the house in Home Alone is basically a Looney Tunes episode come to life. Plus, a kid outsmarts adults while being a hero. It doesn’t get better than that.
Modern Day Capra
What this film makes me pine for most of all, though, is John Hughes, who wrote and produced this movie. He was the Frank Capra for my generation, and I mean that as a compliment.
His movies offered the easy wisdom about finding your way through life. Though simplistic in their escapism, the point was clear: we’re all a little scared and overwhelmed by life, but we can make it through and find happiness and strength where we don’t expect it.
Does that speak to the modern child?
It does. I won’t go into details, but it does. There are some big moments in Home Alone that speak to and for families watching it that no matter how crazy life gets, we’re in it together.
And yes, I still cry at the end.
Honestly, this is one of those gems that you need to see if you haven’t. It’s clever, well-paced and touching without being saccharine. I’m glad I introduced my family to it, and it will likely become a new holiday tradition for us to watch it. Time hasn’t diminished it at all.